Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes – And Between Class ShoesNovember 25, 2023
What should a dedicated would-be ballerina wear for daily foot support? Today there are attractive athletic shoes in all shapes widths, and colors. The expensive built-up sole types are not necessarily the best. The kind with the springs in the heel look like they would feel great if you are walking on cement all day, or on the hard stone halls of a high school. But they may not be the best for developing feet and legs. I have seen that even very young dancers think like career builders and will pay attention to professional issues like daily footwear.
Joyce Morgenroth says in her article from Arts & Sciences Newsletter Fall 1997 Vol. 18 No. 2
“In pointe shoes the vulgar, useful foot is gone. In its place is the illusion of an elongated leg and only a most tenuous connection to the ground.”
So how do we take care of our “vulgar, useful foot”? When I was a ballet student at The National Ballet School of Canada, we wore “vulgar and useful” shoes, by uniform mandate – oxfords! Ugh! Although I have to admit, when I tied mine on after a ballet class, my feet, ankles and calves really were supported and relaxed. Those shoes were as important as our dance wear.
Regarding modern athletic shoes, I read some passages from “Slow Burn” by Stu Mittleman. (I had ordered “Slow Burn” intending to get the book by Frederick Hahn and Eades & Eades. I received the Stu Mittleman book “by mistake” and then ordered the other one too. ) They are both fantastic books with many of the finer details.
Page 77, the chapter “Always Buy a Shoe Fit, Not a Shoe Size”, is a long chapter with interesting stories and great information. Stu is a runner and the frame of his info is for runners. However, a dance student or professional dancer can glean some good advice from him. On page 84 he says :
“The most important considerations to make when it comes to the structure and function of your foot have to do with the following:
Stu’s details in shoe selection that follow that passage resemble the minutiae that dancers attend to in getting exactly the right fit in ballet shoes and pointe shoes. I suggest that dance students get the book from their local library and review this section, and consider the selection of the shoes they wear daily. Party shoes aside, I think you want to support the feet that are supporting you. All day.
In ballet classes, it is crucial to relax between exercises. In life it is crucial to relax between classes. Seek, and find the best shoe for your arch type, tilt pattern, and foot strike .
I used to work with Peter Walpole, DPM, who helped out both at The National Ballet School and National Ballet Company of Canada for many years. He used to say “High heels and pointe shoes should be outlawed by the Geneva Convention.” He turned up with bags of widgets, (toe separators) bandages and other creative stuff to lessen the pain. He performed a lot of surgery on our shoes.
And now, I would be happy to hear from any and all podiatrists who work with dancers, ballet shoes and pointe shoes, should they wish to be known!
Peter Walpole provided the most wonderful orthotics. They were re-buildable, until worn through. He would despair of expensive shoes and tell his patients “tear out the insoles and supports, one size fits no one”……..I was happy to see that Stu Mittleman agrees. He discusses orthotics at length.
Stu discusses the available athletic shoes for the tilt pattern. In ballet we say ‘rolling ankles’ ‘dropped arches’ or ‘flat feet’. Simply meaning the inner ankles roll toward the floor, pronation, and the opposite, the outer ankles roll toward the floor, supination. Differently shaped sneakers will give needed support.
The foot strike is less important for dancers, but very important for runners.
Stu also discusses muscle testing. Chiropractors, kiniesiologists, naturopaths, acupuncturists, some nutritionists, many can muscle test. This includes for proper shoe support. If you have a practitioner that might do this for you, buy your shoes, and take them to your health care person, get the shoes muscle tested. If they are not supportive you can return them. They can test all your shoes that way and may not thank me when they see you coming into their office with huge bags of shoes, sandals, high heels….
Joyce Morgenroth’s article has a lot of historical detail, is a great read, and is found at http://www.arts.cornell.edu/newsletr/spring97/shoes.htm
If your feet hurt day after day, you’ll be happy to find the exact right style and fit of street shoes to wear in between your classes. That way you will get the most out of your ballet shoes and pointe shoes.